Felex Share Senior Reporter—
Government has a database of all beneficiaries of Command Agriculture and farmers have since started repaying their loans, Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa has said. He told The Herald yesterday that there was no going back on Command Agriculture. Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister Professor Jonathan Moyo has been on a spirited campaign against the programme, attacking it on social media and in the private media.
Cabinet, to which Prof Moyo is a member, endorsed the programme which is the brain child of First Lady Amai Grace Mugabe.
President Mugabe assigned Vice President Mnangagwa to supervise the programme.
Minister Chinamasa said all the issues claimed in a “report” published by The Standard newspaper last Sunday had been “discussed and resolved” during the design and inception of the Command Agriculture Programme.
The “report”, which the private paper claimed had emanated from Minister Chinamasa’s office alleged that Government had no database to trace beneficiaries of the programme.
It also said the programme’s chief financier, Sakunda Holdings, had not paid any money to Government.
The report claimed the interest rate on the $192 million facility given to Government was 15 percent.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, the “report” claimed, was not involved in Command Agriculture.
Minister Chinamasa said anyone was free to scrutinise the Government database.
“The Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development has a database of all the beneficiaries of Command Agriculture, which database is expanding as more farmers seek to benefit and as more activities are added,” he said.
“As of now, apart from maize we have added wheat, soya beans and livestock. No farmer benefits unless they are registered in the database. The financing terms under Command Agriculture are at an all–inclusive interest rate of five percent with a tenure of one year, to allow farmers to sell their produce. We looked around in Zimbabwe and abroad, no banking or other institution could match these terms which are ideal for the agricultural sector. I wish our banks could offer affordable terms to farmers so that in future such programmes could be done through normal banking channels.”
Minister Chinamasa said inputs under Command Agriculture were the most competitive and much lower than most retail suppliers.
“We will continue monitoring market conditions to ensure that Command Agriculture does not distort the market and that farmers access inputs at the most competitive prices,” he said.
“With assistance from Command Agriculture programme, our farmers are now accessing medium-term loans at low interest rates for purchasing equipment for Command Livestock and developing irrigation.”
The special maize programme was designed to eliminate imports.
Minister Chinamasa said the Treasury Bills which Sakunda was said to have traded were not tradable.
It is understood that the TBs are being held by local banks.
“We (Government) agreed to provide security to all farmers under Command Agriculture in the form of non-tradable Treasury Bills and a small part through the NocZim Debt Redemption Fund,” he said.
“The Treasury Bills are not tradable until maturity and which time they will be released as farmers honour their obligations. Under Command Agriculture, all farmers are required to pay back the loans. A stop-order scheme has been designed with GMB and other stakeholders to facilitate farmers paying back the loans. The programme is not at all free for the beneficiaries. As Treasury, any Government programme we fund, we do it with the respective line Ministry. In this case, the Ministry of Agriculture is leading in the implementation of Command Agriculture.”
Minister Chinamasa said like any other national projects, other Government arms such as the police and army were involved in Command Agriculture to ensure effective implementation of the programme.
He hailed Sakunda Holdings for “thinking outside the box” and assisting Government.
“If many more local private sector companies rise to the challenge, this country is poised for the African renaissance,” Minister Chinamasa said.
Sakunda Holdings, which funded Command Agriculture to the tune of $192 million, has already sealed another agreement with Government for the 2017-18 agricultural season.
The petroleum giant is mobilising $487 million for the season and will work with CBZ, Ecobank and Barclays banks.
All inputs supply agreements have been sealed and it is the first time since 1980 that Government has signed a summer cropping facility on time.
About 350 000 hectares have been targeted this year up from the 172 000 planted last year.
From the $487 million, the Presidential Input Support Scheme will be covered by $153 million while the remaining $334 million will be used for Command Agriculture.
Movement of inputs for next season is expected to begin next month.
President Mugabe has expressed satisfaction with the success registered with the first Command Agriculture programme saying it was one of the rallying points for Zanu-PF ahead of harmonised elections next year.
The success of the inaugural programme has seen Government stopping maize imports.